son-syl-vending_web.jpgPOMPANO BEACH – Jerome Turner has seen it all on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard. A lifelong resident of Pompano Beach and owner of several businesses, including Country Boyz Barbeque Pit off the back of his truck, the 55-year-old entrepreneur has seen the corridor change over the years.

“There use to be a lot of black-owned businesses but not anymore,” Turner said. As far as his son Jeremie Turner, 28, is concerned, the reason for small businesses struggling in the corridor is simple. “A lack of funds and a lack of ways for businesses to make money,” he said.

Along with his son, the elder Turner joined other small business owners at Annie Adderly Gillis Park, 601 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Blvd., Pompano Beach, on Jan. 11 for “MLK Arts on the Boulevard.” Since last October, the city of Pompano Beach has hosted the four-hour event on the second Saturday of each month at the park.

In this latest installment, business owners from across Broward County brought their finest goods, from custom shirts and dresses to jewelry and home-baked goods.

 Artists such as Tony Thompson performed a spoken word history of Pompano Beach and The Joey Gilmore Band serenaded the crowd with the blues into the early evening. Ashanti Cultural Arts provided the artists.

“It highlights entrepreneurs,” said Novice Johnson, coordinator for vendors for the northwest Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) of Pompano Beach. Combining business and the arts “made for a good evening,” Johnson said.

Sharron Chiapetta, 59, is a big fan of blues and The Joey Gilmore Band. “I’m enjoying it and I will be back,” Chiapetta said. She said it was unfortunate that a larger crowd did not show up. “The city gives us free stuff and few come out,” she said.

Band leader Joey Gilmore, 70, believes that a performance like his connects older and younger generations.

“When we perform for our people, it brings them back,” Gilmore said. “The music is our heritage. It reminds them where the music they listen to came from.”

MLK Arts on the Boulevard serves an important purpose for the city, officials say. “We want to incubate the arts around the Martin Luther King corridor and create an arts district,” said Shanna Benson, special events and marketing manager for the Pompano Beach CRA. “We want to incubate small businesses in store fronts in Pompano Beach.”

Benson said by spring the Ali Building Cultural Arts Center and the Hotel Bailey Arts Center, which will be the main hub for many performing arts events in the area, will be open.

Several vendors lined the borders of the park, including Bill Preston, 80, who displayed custom-made jewelry by his year-old The Real Thing company.  “It’s a good way to meet people,” Preston said. “We are going to be here a lot.”

Ronald Parker, 58, brought his Plantation-based Chillin Station’s assortment of flavored shaved ice and tropical drinks. “I like that it has a real family feeling,” Parker said. “It is a real excellent way to interact with the community.”

Sonia Robinson and her Son-Syl Vending of Fort Lauderdale had a large inventory of inspirational African-American shirts with faces of famous people from civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks to President Barack Obama.

Robinson said that she has more sales when she brings her products to events like “MLK Arts on Boulevard.” “This put the business out there,” Robinson said. “I get to meet with other vendors and exchange information.”

Many of the businesses at the event went through the CRA Micro-enterprise Business Loan Fund program, where Alberta McCarthy of the CRA teaches courses.

“She was thorough in her instructing,” said Stevie Baggs. He and his wife Valerie, who have been in the CRA course for a year, are set to launch their business, True Vine Landscaping and Beautification in March.

“She brought all aspects of a business to class,” Valerie Baggs said. Vendors said the event has an impact on up-and-coming entrepreneurs and established companies.

“It is significant in that small businesses have opportunities for outreach,” Parker said. “Without the public sector, there is no hope. An event like this gives us face time. It gives us the opportunity to hear from the community in ways to improve our product.”